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Educate Youself With Our List Of Ice Safety Tips

While some people can't wait for snow to fall in the Adirondacks, others are just as eager for the first major freeze of the season. Cold winter temperatures cause ice to form over lakes and ponds, and once it is thick enough, you can do everything from ice skating to ice fishing.

But how do you know when the ice is thick enough? That's one of the most common questions every winter because ice is extremely dangerous if it is too thin or weak. To help you stay safe, we've laid out how to test ice thickness and handle yourself on a frozen body of water.

using auger on ice

Checking The Ice

The most important thing to remember in regard to ice safety is that ice thickness is not uniform across a body of water. You should always check the thickness of the ice in more than one area if you plan on crossing a body of water or staying on it for a long period of time.

While it's always a good idea to ask a local bait shop or guide about the ice thickness first, you will also want to measure it yourself. To check the ice, there are specific tools you can use to easily dig a hole.

Ice Chisel - Basically, an ice chisel is a long metal rod with a sharp blade at one end. You drive this chisel into the ice in order to dig a small hole. Once you've reached water, you can measure the depth with a tape measure.

Ice Auger - There are three types of ice augers: hand, electric, and gas. A hand auger is the cheapest, but you'll have to dig through using your own strength. Once you've dug a hole with an auger, use a tape measure to check the ice.

Cordless Drill - You can also use a cordless drill if you have the right auger bit. Attach a 5/8 inch wood auger bit to your drill; the bit should have a spiral around the shaft. The spiral will pull out ice chips, and once the hole is large enough, you can measure the depth.

When The Ice Is Safe To Travel On

Once you've measured the ice, you will also want to know if it is safe enough to be on. The strongest ice is clear/blue in color and found over non-running waters. Since white/gray ice is much weaker, you should only consider traveling on clear/blue ice.

Ice Thickness Guide:

Here is the suggested amount of weight per x number inches of clear/blue ice.

  • 2 inches or less - Stay off; the ice is unsafe to walk on
  • 3-4 inches - The ice is usually thick enough for ice fishing or other activities on foot
  • 5 inches - You can travel on the ice with a snowmobile or ATV; or, you can travel on foot as a group in a single file line
  • 7.5-12 inches - This is the recommended amount of ice thickness for a car or small truck
  • 10-15 inches - The ice can typically handle the weight of a medium-sized truck; wait until the ice is at least a foot if you're unsure

Other Types of Ice:

  • When ice is white/opaque, it is only about half as strong as clear/blue ice. As such, if you plan on traveling over white/opaque ice, it should be twice as thick. Use extreme caution over white ice.
  • When ice is gray or white/mottled gray, you should avoid it. These types of ice are the weakest and unsafe for any kind of travel or activities.
  • River ice is about 15% weaker than ice over non-running waters.
  • In addition, if you see bubblers (devices used to protect docks), don't walk on ice near them. Bubblers can make ice weak in the surrounding area.

Staying Safe On The Ice

On Foot

  • Use crampons while walking on ice to increase traction
  • Do not travel on ice at night, especially by vehicle
  • Be wary of ice covered in snow; snow may be hiding open water or cracked ice
  • Carry a portable flotation device in case you or someone else falls through the ice
  • Bring ice picks and keep them close; they can be used to pull yourself out of the water if you fall through
  • If you can, use the buddy system and bring a friend

In A Vehicle

  • If the ice is thick enough for parking, move your vehicle every two hours to prevent sinking
  • Make a hole near your vehicle; if water begins to overflow, move your vehicle immediately
  • Park vehicles at least 50 feet apart
  • Avoid areas where other vehicles have parked previously

Handling An Accident On The Ice

If you, someone else, or a pet falls through the ice, there are a few different steps you should follow.

Getting Out Of The Water - If you fall through the ice, you will have about 2-5 minutes before the cold water begins to really affect you. During that period, you should kick your legs, grasp for nearby ice, and get yourself horizontal on it. If you have ice picks, you can use them to pull yourself onto the ice. Once you get yourself out of the water, roll toward thicker ice. As soon as you are off the ice, the next step is to work fast to prevent hypothermia.

Helping Someone Out Of The Water - If someone else falls through the ice, and you can't reach them from shore, the first step should be to throw them a rope, tree branch, jumper cable, or other object. If nothing is available, you should go for help and call 911. Once the person is out of the water, you'll want to work fast to prevent hypothermia.

Rescuing Your Pet - If your pet falls through the ice, your first instinct may be to help them. However, if the ice isn't thick enough for your pet, it won't be for you. What you should do is get help and call 911.

Learn about preventing and treating frostbite and hypothermia »

See ice safety infographics »

« Back to the Adirondack Winter Guide

Sources:

  • http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/hunting-fishing-wildlife-watching/ice-strength-and-safety-tips.html
  • http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/IceFishingSafety.aspx
  • http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/ice/thickness.html
  • http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7733.html